AMIA 2014: Southern Hospitality and Social Media “Hors d’Oeuvres”

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Man, I am SO EXCITED RIGHT NOW. Excited in a way that only happens once a year.

It is finally time for the event that I wait all year for and have been attending since before I started school to become a moving image archivist: the annual AMIA Conference, and this year it’s taking place in Savannah, GA. I am looking forward to having an authentic mint julep and exploring southern hospitality. You know how archival personalities are!

My first year going to AMIA was in Philadelphia in 2010. I went in order to decide if moving image archive work was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It is now 2014. I had an absolute blast in Austin, Seattle was wonderful, Richmond rocked and I’m heading to Savannah this Sunday, October 5th. I think you could say I’ve decided.

One of my heroines in the field, Maxine Fleckner Ducey. Last year she retired but she is one of my total rock stars and ALWAYS will be! Richmond, VA

One of my heroines in the field, Maxine Fleckner Ducey. Last year she retired but she is one of my total rock stars and ALWAYS will be! Would never have gotten to meet her if it wasn’t for AMIA. Richmond, VA

Every year I do the same errands in preparation. It works out pretty well. I get my “I’m forgetting something” anxiety while packing, get on the plane, and am fine once we take off.

This time, however, I decided to add something new to the mix.  I wanted it to be different. AMIA has given me so very much. I felt like I really wanted to provide the conference and/or its attendees with something before I even arrived. I started to think about the fact that AMIA does a lot for the moving image archiving world by having these events and many of us are ardently doing our own bits by communicating all year long on the internet through social media. What if we connected these two things in a more organized fashion?

AMIA TRIVIA THROWDOWN. Seriously. If you don't go to this? I'm not sure you believe in fun.

AMIA TRIVIA THROWDOWN.
Seriously. If you don’t go to this? I’m not sure you believe in fun.

Pre-Gaming

I decided that I wanted to catalog as many of the people who would be interacting with the information being disseminated as possible. Or at least as many as would respond to the call that I made on the AMIA-list, the Facebook invite, and my twitter feed.

I wanted to create a central location before the conference began where people could come and locate social media sources and feel more prepared pre-conference. Clearly, my real dream would be to initiate some kind of venture starting more than a few days previous and give everyone a nice spreadsheet to follow, but for the moment, my blog will have to do. I hope that it will suffice for the time being!

So I would like to introduce you to something that I have affectionately nicknamed social media “hors d’oeuvres.” Seeing as the main course is clearly the conference itself, this aggregation of archivists, vendors, individuals, educators and generally fantastic people who responded to my call for social media info is the nice tasty bit of delicious everyone snacks on before jumping into the “meat and potatoes” of #AMIA14 (or for vegans & vegetarians, some high-protein equivalent).

Before I list these lovely folks who have so generously responded and provided such positive feedback to this idea, I want to briefly discuss why I think having this list is critical and what it will allow and generate.

I got to tour the LOC. The Packard Campus. Need I say more?? Richmond, VA

During last year’s AMIA conference, I got to tour the LOC. The Packard Campus. Need I say more?? AMIA RULES!!! Richmond, VA, 2013

I began to consider the many ways in which I have utilized social media. When I served as the AMIA Student Chapter President at UCLA, I spent each morning on the way to school tweeting new articles about archiving and data asset management, women in restoration, orphan films, preservation technology and digital workflows on the @AMIAatUCLA twitter account. I created this account for the Student Chapter hoping that it would serve as an important avenue for future outreach and training for students in the field. The time I spent in grad school culling meaningful materials/information from the internet and sharing it with the rest of the community in an expedient fashion is probably one of the most useful tools that I acquired in those two years. I still use this skill everyday, whether I am sharing this information on my personal social media or in my current position working for the Film Noir Foundation.

In the few short years since I began to attend AMIA events, social media and its applications have reached incredible heights. Those who continually post memes, wrongly identified Oscar Wilde quotes and gossip articles on their Facebook are likely highly unaware of the power that they actually hold in their clicking hand. Indeed, the recent announcement of the newly discovered lost Sherlock Holmes film was shared repeatedly by people I never thought I would see it shared by. Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and the various Vine/Snapchat-style moving image capture devices? All of these have the possibility for achieving and spreading great information. And we are in the business of information, be it visual or otherwise. My point: as keyed-in, aware folks, let’s exploit the possibilities of social media applications in order to further strengthen our own community and spread more awareness about what we REALLY DO.

Let’s start with #AMIA14. Let’s get people who have never heard of  our field or AMIA to become interested because a cadre of us tweet interesting and archivally-centered comments about Ian MacKaye’s keynote address. I’m totally into the idea of young punk rock kids asking questions about scanning and document preservation. Doesn’t that sound amazing???

Let’s talk about HASHTAGS. And let’s get standardized NOW.

So let’s get real. While attending various AMIA-related events (DAS, The Reel Thing, AMIA conference) one thing always struck me: “social media confusion” reigned supreme in a population that is centered on the organization of media.

Let’s be clear: I am not at all blaming or badmouthing anyone. As stated earlier, the way in which social media has shifted has been incredibly fast; sometimes much too fast for people to keep up with and be on the regular “battlefield” so to speak. But as of now, we can no longer afford that luxury. So let’s play catch-up.

In these situations, the primary issue hinged upon the fact that barely anyone was aware of who else was tweeting/instagramming/etc, unless they were personal friends or colleagues. While this is great for connected friendly folks, this neglects newcomers to the field (students, new hires to companies, etc) and is rather exclusive. Right here we have lost a unique opportunity for increased social media connectivity and a surefire way to build a stronger more cohesive community.

Unfortunately, most people who were using social media were either not using hashtags, making up their own or unaware of what the official one was. To me, this was quite problematic. While I think there is something valuable to a more folksonomic approach to certain social media hashtags, I strongly believe that in a situation such as #AMIA14 or any other AMIA-related event, it is critical to set one term to be used throughout the session. That way, whether you know or are aware of other folks using social media, you can explore all that is tagged with that term and get a decent idea of the panels and conference. More critically, if you are unable to attend, having a standardized hashtag allows people to investigate the conference on an international level.

STANDARDIZATION IS ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL IN WHAT WE DO. IT CANNOT BE STRESSED ENOUGH.

THEREFORE, OUR HASHTAG FOR THIS CONFERENCE IS #AMIA14. PLEASE USE #AMIA14 as the “official hashtag”

If you are attending the REEL THING EVENT please use #TRTxxxiv , if you are attending Hack Day, please use #AVhack14

Any other hashtags are up to you, clearly. But as long as we have those, some kid who is studying cataloging in Iowa and couldn’t afford to come can still follow a little bit of the conference on their iPhone, see how much fun we’re having, and say to herself, “Dang. I’m totally gonna get a second job during Christmas. No WAY I’m missing this AMIA thing next year!!”

Hors d’Oeuvres

And with that, I am most pleased and incredibly honored to introduce you to the wonderfully consume-able social media treats that will be interacting with and commenting on #AMIA14. I strongly encourage any and all of you to check them out and, if you are in Savannah, find them in person and say hello as well! I know some of my best AMIA experiences have come from a simple, “Hey, I loved that question,” during a panel. You might be able to say the same about an Instagram or a tweet!

So, please add all of these  to your tabletphonethingies.

AMIA

AMIA-L /AMIA-Member listservs  – Please note that there will be messages going out on these during the conference!

AMIA Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Association-of-Moving-Image-Archivists

AMIA Twitter: https://twitter.com/AMIAnet

AMIA YouTube: AMIAstreaming: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClaGeGA_4nY_UFMdwhpmC8g

AMIA Instagram: AMIARCHIVISTS

AMIA Education Committee: https://twitter.com/AMIAEduComm
http://amiaeducomm.wordpress.com/category/announcements/
https://www.facebook.com/AmiaEducationComittee

RICK PRELINGER – Meta-archivist; home movie collector; co-founder outsider library; makes live historical film events; teaches Film&DigitalMedia at UCSC. –

@Footage – Twitter

KRISTIN LIPSKA – Project Assistant at the California Audiovisual Preservation Project (also on twitter as @CAVPP). CAVPP is a project to digitize and provide access to AV recordings found in various California libraries and archives. Everything is online here: https://archive.org/details/californialightandsound

@snaile – Twitter

SUE BIGELOW  – will be tweeting for the Vancouver Archives – Vancouver’s City Archives. History, public access, preservation, open data. Documents, photographs, movies, audio, maps, plans, digital records.

@VanArchives – Twitter

BRITTAN DUNHAM – heads up a private archive, on the Film Advocacy Task Force, Co-Chair of the Projection and Technical Presentation Committee, and helps produce Archival Screening Night

@brittanclaire – Twitter

@brittanclaire – Instagram

SNOWDEN BECKER – Snowden Becker is Program Manager for the MIAS program at UCLA. A co-founder of the international Home Movie Day event and the nonprofit Center for Home Movies, she is also Secretary of the Board of the Association of Moving Image Archivists. She will be tweeting at her own account and for the official MIAS program account.

@snowdenbecker – Twitter

@UCLAmias

CRAWFORD MEDIA SERVICES – a media management house based in Atlanta, GA, providing media migration, archival storage, asset management and metadata services. The folks who will be attending the conference will be Emily Halevy, Jeff Britt, Steve Davis, Corinne Whitney and Robin Rutledge.

@crawford_media #crawford_media – Twitter

https://www.facebook.com/crawfordmediaservices – Facebook

Emily Halevy from Crawford will also be creating social media on her own accounts:

Twitter: @EmilyHalevy
Facebook: Emily Halevy

Instagram: evh271

JOHAN OOMEN – Head of R&D · Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Researcher · VU University Amsterdam, Vice chair  ·  Europeana Network Officers

@johanoomen – Twitter

Also associated:

EUscreenXL is a project and best practice network which aims at improving and developing the EUscreen portal. It is a consortium involving European audiovisual and broadcasting archives. EUscreenXL aligns audiovisual collections held throughout Europe and connects them within the audiovisual domain of Europeana, an online collection of millions of digitised items from European museums, libraries and archives.
Other associates on Twitter:
  • @beeldengeluid
  • @benglabs
  • @prestocentre
  • @euscreen

WGBH TWITTER LINKS

@wgbharchives preserves and makes accessible the unique and historically important content produced by the public television and radio station WGBH in Boston.

@amarchivepub is the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, a collaboration between WGBH and the Library of Congress to preserve and make accessible the historical record of public media across America.

@caseyedavis1 is the Project Manager for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting at WGBH and chairs the AMIA PBCore Advisory Subcommittee

@kcariani is the Director of the WGBH Media Library and Archives and is Project Director for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting at WGBH.

@therealpbcore a metadata schema for audiovisual media. Tweets from the AMIA PBCore Advisory Subcommittee.

POST HASTE DIGITAL – Established in 2003 by Allan Falk and Jim Allan. Post Haste Digital has grown to provide multiple premier post production services all while maintaining the original core value of providing high level technical servicing coupled with a full range of customer service and support. We offer tailored services in restoration, preservation, mastering and archival among much more.

TOP LINKS
Website  –  http://posthastedigital.com
Facebook  –  https://www.facebook.com/post.haste.post.production
Instagram  –  http://instagram.com/posthastedigital
Twitter  –  https://twitter.com/posthastesound
Yelp  –  http://www.yelp.com/biz/post-haste-digital-los-angeles

ANDY UHRICH – from the Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive.

@iulmia – Twitter

RETO KROMER – AV Conservation and Restoration Scientist ~ mathematician ~ musician ~ bon vivant ~ by ~ Currently on Board of Directors

@RetoKromer – Twitter

GRACE LILE – Human rights archivist, Palestine solidarity activist, WITNESS lifer.

@gracelile – Twitter

THE PIXEL FARM LTD – We manufacture and market innovative image-processing technologies. Creators of PFTrack, PFDepth and PFClean

@thepixelfarm – Twitter

AUDIOVISUAL PRESERVATION SOLUTIONS (AVPS) – a consulting firm that supports organizations in media archiving, data management, and development of related software to help them better manage, distribute, and preserve their assets

The AVPS Team & their Twitter handles!

@avpreserve

@avpseth – Seth Anderson

@k_grons – Kathryn Gronsbell

@kvanmalssen – Kara Van Malssen – Senior consultant for all things digital preservation & access and Adjunct Professor for  teaching digital preservation.

ASHLEY BLEWER – Developer, archivist. Moving image specialist, enthusiast. Music, movies, microcode.

@ablwr – Twitter

LORENA RAMIREZ-LOPEZ – current student at the NYU program for Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) and is interested in working on digital preservation for Latin American archives.

@DaleLore – Twitter

@DaleLore – Instagram

JACK BRIGHTON – Public media producer, web developer, and activist/archivist. Works at Illinois Public Media, and teaches at the University of Illinois College of Media and Graduate School of Library & Information Science. Into digital storytelling, open access, clarity in design, and fast guitars.
@jackbrighton – Twitter

http://willtech.tumblr.com/ – Tumblr

DAVE RICE – moving image archivist at CUNY.

dericed.com – Website

@dericed – Twitter

AMIA FILM ADVOCACY TASK FORCE – Film is important. The FATF is made up of members of the Association of Moving Image Archivists who are concerned with the future use of motion picture film.
-will be promoting and tweeting under #filmadvocate all week.
http://www.filmadvocacy.org/ –  Website
@filmadvocacy – Twitter

MEDIA COMMONS ARCHIVE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO– Rachel E. Beattie will be tweeting/ posting on facebook for the Media Commons Archive at the University of Toronto.  The Media Commons is the media library and archives at Robarts Library at the University of Toronto. We offer a lending collection of film and television; microfilm and microfiche; and an audio visual archive specializing in Canadian cultural production.

http://www.facebook.com/uoftmediacommons – Facebook

@MediaCommons_TO – Twitter

SHIRA PELTZMAN – Shira was recently chosen for the National Digital Stewardship Residency hosted by the Carnegie Hall Archives. As such, she will design and document workflows for the acquisition, storage, and long-term management of born-digital assets, configure and implement Carnegie Hall’s new Digital Asset Management System, and use inventories of born-digital assets to inform requirements and recommendations for the long-term preservation and sustainability of digital files.

@shirapeltzman – Twitter

KRISTIN MACDONOUGH – Digitization Specialist | Video Data BankAV Artifact Atlas Coordinator | Bay Area Video Coalition

@super_kmac, @BAVCPreserve – Twitter

ARIEL SCHUDSON – Moving image archivist. Here to curate media, celebrate moving image preservation & archival communities, and just sorta rock out. All words/opinions my own. Also recipient of the Nancy Mysel Legacy Project award from the Film Noir Foundation.

@sinaphile – Twitter

will also be posting to the Film Noir Foundation Tumblr, which can be found here: http://filmnoirfoundation.tumblr.com/

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What Price Hollywood?: The Finale of a Family-Run Movie House

***PLEASE NOTE: ALL OPINIONS IN THIS PIECE ARE MY OWN & NOT THOSE OF MY EMPLOYER OR ANY ORGANIZATIONS WITH WHICH I AM AFFILIATED***

I remember the first time I went to the New Beverly Cinema. I was 15 years old, I was a few months off from leaving the country to go to high school in Israel, and I was smack-dab in the middle of a “party-all-the-time” summer with my best friend Nanette and her two older sisters.

I felt nervous because we were sneaking snacks in and…YOU DIDN’T DO THATNOT EVEN CARROT STICKS. Which, by the way, is exactly what we snuck in.

We were watching Reservoir Dogs at midnight.  I remember bits and pieces of the experience: where we sat, that there were guys in the theater, that they were…”t-shirt guys.” You know, the kind of sloppy dudes who were older than me but might listen to the kind of music that I had been slowly getting into, now that my hair metal and grunge days were petering out- The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., Mary’s Danish….T-SHIRT GUYS. I remember the dimly lit lobby. The sticky floor of the theater. The film itself.

That was 21 years ago.

In that 2 decades of my life, I have gotten 3 degrees & 1 special certificate in cinema studies from 4 different Universities. I have studied critical theory, feminist film theory, US film history and all different kind of film preservation and moving image archive studies. I am currently the Nancy Mysel Legacy Project recipient for the Film Noir Foundation in training (hopefully) to be their official preservationist when the time comes. I work almost exclusively with 35mm film. Digital was not very popular in the 1940s, I’m afraid.

Movies are my boyfriend.

I love film more than almost anything on earth. I have spent most of my adult life studying it, sitting in dark theaters, orgasmically grinning at that dark screen, feeling goddamn lucky that I, Ariel Schudson, get to see moving images on a big screen!!!!

But if it was not for the New Beverly Cinema I would not have had the inkling of a desire to become a film archivist. The fact that I have assisted on two restorations this year makes my toes curl with joy. These films are saved for the future. I owe this to the HOURS I have spent with the beautiful people in the dark on Beverly Blvd.

I knew Sherman Torgan.  He was the man who took the New Beverly Cinema and made it the welcoming cozy movie house that I fell in love with. I grew so attached to the theater that I got into a GIANT screaming match with my step-dad about why I thought Blade Runner was totally appropriate for my 9-yr-old brother. That argument was NUTS. Sherman was the greatest guy. I got to the theater after that fight, my face puffy with tears. Sherman just let the sniffling teen girl in.

Sherman Torgan, relaxing on the New Bev stairs

Sherman Torgan, relaxing on the New Bev stairs

I wish I had a picture to show you of what he looked like during the time that I knew him, but he was really the first guy that I remember understanding the idea of film community. When I moved into the New Bev area after college, he only charged me student prices (I was no student). One night we had a blissfully wonderful discussion about the audience that came for his Billy Wilder double feature.

“Sherman,” I told him, “I came alone to this double. Like I do to most films here.” I was probably 23 at the time.

He nodded, ok, so?

“I felt like I was FAMILY  with every single person IN there. Wall to wall people! That was genuinely the best movie experience I have ever had!” (I was overemphatic and excited as I still am about everything)

Sherman was a man of few words. But he said something to the effect of, “Well, they’re good movies. They’ll do that!”

I was so high off cinema that I practically flew home.

When Sherman died, it was crushing. But I watched Michael build the theater into something special. He worked hard. EVERY DAY. He never took vacations. The New Beverly was his life. Except for occasional post-screening dinners with regulars. Those were always fun. His cat passed away which (as many pet-owners know) is devastating but Michael took very little time off and dove right back into the New Beverly. He is his father’s son. Being a New Beverly Regular meant I got to see that Michael Torgan’s blood, sweat and tears were the things that drove the very organs of the New Beverly Cinema.

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Old School New Bev Regulars from 2009, RIP Jen Roach

That cinema could not run without him.

He slept there to wait for prints. He stayed until 2am to change the marquee. All the things that you do as a theater owner. Except…he didn’t own the theater. Quentin Tarantino does. So fast-forward to now. Houston, we have a problem. Houston, we have a lot of problems.

OK. One quick step back and some background- when Sherman died, the theater was in danger of closing. Tarantino stepped in and bought the land, becoming, in effect, the landlord. This was FANTASTIC!! Let’s be 100% clear about this: in no way, shape or form was this a bad thing. In fact, this was wonderful. Without Tarantino’s immense generosity, we would have lost our brilliant New Beverly Cinema 7 years ago and countless screenings, historical Q&As, and nights of 35mm brilliance. Thanks to him we have had Edgar Wright’s festivals, Patton Oswalt’s programming, festivals by Diablo Cody, Eli Roth, and Joe Dante,in addition to a film series I programmed that raised $3000 for Moving Image Archiving Students. Make no mistake about it, Quentin Tarantino’s purchase of this land was, as they say in the Fairfax ‘hood, a mitzvah!

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So skip forward to the official news that was made known today through the LA Weekly. Mr. Tarantino has decided to rescind the terms of the contract with the Torgan family. His statement, as published in the LA Weekly reads as follows:

Sherman Torgan opened the New Beverly [in 1978] and had been running it for decades. I had been going there forever. And somewhere in the last four years of Sherman running the theater, word got to me that it might close. So I started supplementing him, started giving him about $5,000 a month, to pay his bills, and meet his expenses. He never had to pay it back. I love Los Angeles, and I love the New Beverly, and I didn’t want to see it go. But then, unfortunately, Sherman died [in June 2007]. And the people who owned the property wanted to turn it into a Super Cuts. So, working through Michael, I was able to buy the property. And Michael’s been running the theater ever since. I could say, ‘Hey, Michael, can we do this, can we show that?’ but basically it’s been Michael’s baby. He’s really done a Herculean job. But after seven years as owner, I wanted to make it mine. (italics & bold mine) – LA Weekly

The Torgans have run the New Beverly for 36 years. In a highly corporate economy and city like Los Angeles, the New Bev is a well-loved family-run-business. And Quentin has had a great deal of control up to now. Basically anything he wanted to do or have, he could do or have. It was his theater. He could program anything he wanted, and have the theater anytime he asked. Any of this talk about trying to make it his is bizarre to me. I have been to several of his 2-3 month-long programming residencies and they were wonderful! The man has good taste. So what is he actually doing?

To quote Michael Torgan himself, in response to Quentin’s article (in the comments section), he states:

An important clarification to this article: like most business owners, my family did not own the physical property from which we ran our business.  We leased it since 1978, so we did not literally own the physical theater.  However, we did own the business known as the New Beverly Cinema 100%.  In addition to being the manager/chief programmer, I was also the owner of the business entirely.  This point has often been misunderstood, so I felt a need to make this statement even if I chose not to be interviewed for this piece.

So, this means that what QT is doing is relieving the Torgan Family of the New Beverly Cinema, of which they have owned for 36 years. Does this seem right to you? I can’t swallow that. Not even a little bit. There are far more decent ways that this could have gone. Destroying a family business not being first on the list. As I’ve read the comments today, people have talked all about the programming. “We’ll see what happens to the New Bev,” they’ve said, “Maybe it’ll be fine! We have to see what the programming is like.” WAIT. GUYS. Have you been living in a bubble for the last seven years?? Where have you been when QT took the entire month of March 2011 to program his birthday month? Or in 2007 when he programmed 1-2 months up until the release of Grindhouse? *insert puzzled expression here*

In the Weekly article, Quentin continues and says, “I want the New Beverly to be a bastion for 35 millimeter films. I want it to stand for something. When you see a film on the New Beverly calendar, you don’t have to ask whether it’s going to be shown in DCP [Digital Cinema Projection] or in 35 millimeter. You know it’s playing in 35 because it’s the New Beverly.” The New Beverly already DOES stand for something. This is also what makes me uneasy about QT wanting to toss out the people who have been running the theater for 36 years and “make it his own.”

I realize that many people are getting incredibly excited about the idea of a filmhouse that will be all-35mm-all-the-time, but my question is at what costWe have been talking about the loss of projectionists and 35mm theaters due to digital, but are we going to turn around and do the same exact thing to one of our own?? Does taking out a Digital Projector that is only used when it is absolutely necessary somehow diminish what the New Beverly Cinema has stood for all these years?

To this film preservationist, this decision is not in anyone’s best interest. I realize that there are a lot of emotions around this, but within my profession, I try my best to look at things critically, not emotionally, and from that perspective (shifting gears a bit) I don’t think this is a good idea. Not for the New Beverly, not for Los Angeles cinephiles, not for the continued discussion of why 35mm film is important.  886965_10200439778213465_146334779_o

Of course, we all know what this situation is really about don’t we? Sure we do. Let’s just come out and say it: digital. Everyone has been beating about the bush and mentioning the silly Wrap article as the cause of this. Let’s stop blaming The Wrap. It’s not their fault. The facts: Quentin had already made his thoughts on 35mm known. The problem is that there is no happy medium here. And there is a high level of format fetishization over film appreciation.  Ask yourself a question: would you rather watch a 35mm print for its last time ever before it falls apart forever or be able to watch a DCP of the same film? Some people will say 35mm. Simply due to the format. This is the unhealthy landscape that we have created for 35mm appreciation. A place where people aren’t aware of why Michael Torgan bought the digital system for the New Bev and how it was being used.

So let’s clear this up. I was able to get a statement from Michael about the addition of digital to the New Beverly and I think going to the source is healthier than conjecture. Provenance, y’all.

Michael states,

I installed the digital projector on May 5 of this year, so I imagine [most people] would have seen 35mm on [their] visits. The majority of our programs remained 35mm even with the new projector, and 35mm would have remained the preferred format always….I just have to say that was NEVER my intention when I made the decision to add a digital projector to my booth. 35mm would have always been the preferred format, with the digital projector there to allow us to continue the newer films we’ve always screened (but suddenly were no longer able to) as well as the occasional digital-only restoration. As a theater that runs all 35mm prints on 2,000 ft reels via reel-to-reel projection, the New Beverly thankfully still had access to lots of repertory 35mm titles from the studios, and I intended to book those prints as long as possible.

The comments that are turning up on the QT article are not unexpected but they are sad-making. Much like the digital technology changeover, these comments are favoring 35mm over human experience and that weirds me out since it is analogue we are choosing in this circumstance. Are we doing this because it’s Quentin and it’s his star power? Is it really a kind of format fetishization and intense nostalgia that will relieve us of the ability to see the time and energy that a family has spent a lifetime building? What does it REALLY  mean when a fancy filmmaker says, “After 7 years as owner, I wanted to make it mine,” and yet does not know that the New Bev already stands for film community, film devotion and film education? If it wasn’t for the Grindhouse Festival that he programmed in 2007, I wouldn’t have gotten into that genre! And the IB Tech films that he programmed were truly spectacular! I was in heaven!473764_4108270061541_2000490191_o

We are headed on the wrong track here if we allow things like this to continue. There is a necessity for both 35mm and digital in the film community. Not one nor the other but both. A friend said that he believed that 35mm theaters should show only 35mm film. Well, in my experience, those theaters may end up suffering great financial loss. Unless (as Tarantino noted) they have large collections like he does. It is extremely exciting to me that he is installing a 16mm projector. I LOVE THAT. That (again) showcases the necessity for these formats and the materials that exist (possibly) ONLY in that format!! There are films that may not have been able to be saved without a 35mm blow-up of a 16mm. My Film Saying is: never say never. But looking at this situation critically, I would never choose a format over a human. It defeats the purpose of what I do as an archivist and preservationist.

The Torgan Family is what the New Beverly Cinema stands for. And I stand behind that statement.

New work! Check it out!!

Hey all! Been crazy busy!! I’ll be getting something together soon, I promise.

For now…check out the latest thing I have up on the fantastic site, Crave Online!

I sat in on a pretty fantastic virtual roundtable with some great guests and it was a great opportunity for the film archivist in me and the cinephile as well.

Check it out:

http://www.craveonline.com/film/interviews/193251-presenting-the-way-it-was-warner-bros-and-blu-ray-restoration

The Devil You Know: History, Technology and Family in Warrior

Within the last few years, we have had a preponderance of sports-related dramas released. Notably, many of these films have centered not on football or baseball but on more violent sports, such as boxing or wrestling, and they seemed to serve the dual purpose of revealing certain truths about the sport and about those who engage in it.

But sports films (even violent sports films) are nothing new. Even the revelatory “insignia” of most of these films which seems to be the troubled or remarkably dysfunctional family situation was present back in the days of Body and Soul (Robert Rossen, 1947)

John Garfield in Body and Soul

with John Garfield’s boxer Charley Davis, whose parental situation is compromised or Champion (Mark Robson, 1949), with Kirk Douglas’ Midge Kelly, a boxer with a crippled brother and a unique ability to step on whomever he needs to.

These days, to use this insignia as ample explanation for characters’ motivations towards sports engagement is dreadful oversimplification. Realistically, if anyone were to argue it for the older set of films, I would say that not only were they rejecting the dynamics of genre conventions that these films employ (noir, melodrama) but they are also highly representative of social conditions. These films, whether they are The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008), The Fighter (David O. Russell, 2010) or Requiem for a Heavyweight (Ralph Nelson, 1962) are based on more than individual protagonists’ surrounding environments. While not discounting those elements, the characters these movies focus on participate in sports such as this for a multitude of reasons, and the larger “picture” of the picture should not be shrugged off. It’s far too important.

The filmic texts of sports films become even more multi-layered as the years go on, underscoring not only individual reasoning and impetus but a variety of other sociological factors that come together to provide much richer pieces. Even a film as seemingly innocuous or “cheesy” as Over the Top (Menahem Golan, 1987) counts in that it adds an extra patch to this “quilt” in the way that it handles issues of social upheaval within the family unit as well as masculinity (even if arm-wrestling isn’t widely considered a national past-time).

In the world of Over the Top, arm-wrestling can be as professional a sport as wrestling or boxing, and being so…it is accompanied with the same issues: damaged family, economic problems, and many larger over-arching things like, well, concepts of the masculine. Aside from the Kenny Loggins power ballad.

It has come to my attention that the simple “he came from the wrong side of the track/bad family life” summation is trite and kindergarten analysis for the depth of these examples of cinema. There are much more fascinating treasures within these films to be unearthed, and it is our job as viewers to look a little deeper. These films work on contradiction and criticism: their narratives pivot upon the carnivalesque celebration of primal, base acts. If we take these simply at face value, then we are doing something wrong.

This year’s example of what I am speaking of is a film directed by Gavin O’ Connor called Warrior. Although at first glance, the film may seem to play off the same tired clichés of alcoholism, bad family life, economic tension and the “east coast,” Warrior is a multidimensional film that methodically examines the themes of conflict and technology all underneath the waving banners of family and sports. O’Connor manages to communicate his story within terms of familial struggle as well as within terms of media complicity. In doing so, Warrior becomes a tale that makes the audience at once aware that they, themselves, are complicated figures in the schema of the film as they are at once made active participants and passive empaths, no matter what age they might be. O’Connor’s multigenerational technological “mash-up” creates a space in which any viewer can find an avenue through which to join the narrative. It is all intentional.

Reality v. Fiction

Posters for the released film, when put together, were intended to create the one face

This lay-out of the film poster exemplifies the way in which the film was intended to run: a match-up game that didn’t quite match-up. Instead, it was more of a mash-up game. From a distance, one might mistake the two posters as one singular image, one person. Up close, there was no question that it was the actors playing the two different roles, Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy. This visual division of the one “pseudo-image” into two, is the reiteration of the narrative split of the characters. However, this is the first example of how conceptions of reality and fiction are played upon from the very beginning. Had you chanced upon the two posters previous to seeing the film, you might have mistaken them for one whole person (together), or, seeing them separately, each poster might’ve appeared to be half of the same person (unless you were quite familiar with the actors in the film). Either way, the message behind the poster was the enmeshing of the two different beings into one; incongruous realities coming together, not fitting, creating a fiction, a trick for the eye.

The next time this reality/fiction mash-up plays itself out is within the actual film itself. Like other recent films, Warrior placed actual sports figures into the quilted layout of its story. Darren Aronofsky’s may have hired real-live wrestler Nekro-Butcher and assorted other wrestling announcers to give The Wrestler that true-to-life flavor, but O’Connor hired the flavor, turned up the heat, and added one more element: he mixed it up.

Kurt Angle as the MMA badass from Russia, Koba

Kurt Angle was the pride and joy of the WWE for many years. He was the one person that they could say had gotten a “real Olympic gold medal” and they played that for all that it was worth. Angle, in playing the character of Russian-MMA champion Koba, also played that part for all that it was worth. It is true that Kurt’s career has included a modicum of MMA bouts in the last few years, but his primary celebrity has always been within the world of televised wrestling. It’s what he is known for. Additionally, it is important to note that Mixed Martial Arts, as we know it, would not be what it is without the showmanship and the carnival-like atmosphere that Vince McMahon brought to the extreme sports-world. Kurt Angle’s appearance within the MMA spectrum is both shocking and also a historical “post-it-note” to the past, reminding those “in the know” where MMA came from.

While there are a variety of announcers and other real-life MMA-figures in the film, it is Kurt Angle’s appearance within the Warrior text that is one of the bigger reality/fiction matches. Like any non-fictional performer put in a fictional storyline, it hinges upon the audience’s familiarity with the real-life extreme sports world. In wrestling terminology, can O’Connor truly “put him over” as a MMA-champion and not the all-American wrestling hero that he’s been known as for years?

The use of non-fiction characters, whether they are big champs like Angle or just well-known announcers, represent the attempt to invite audience members into the front row; make them feel like they are part of the V.I.P section. Realistically, in a certain sense, they are. It’s like knowing a secret or being part of a tribe; you’re the one who gets those jokes, you get those “in” moments, you are the film’s reality. This makes a huge difference on how familiar you are with Kurt Angle. If you are familiar with who Kurt Angle is, his placement in the film relays a sense of history and gives the MMA-world a context to exist in. For people who are aware of Kurt Angle, he is history. Seeing as the Mixed Martial Art world is still a relatively new sport, and Angle himself has been wrestling with the WWE and then TNA for an inordinate amount of time (ok, maybe not Ric Flair amount, but a goodly bit of time!), recognizing him as a major wrestler and not a MMA fighter is pretty much a no-brainer in this arena, literally. The other bit of traction here is that, aside from the history, as a walking part of fan culture who has just been sewn into the filmic text, you are also well aware that everything is a little upside down, a little bit in conflict. The reality is in the fiction, the old history (wrestling) is at odds with the new (MMA), and there is nothing you can do about it but be fully aware. Because you know what only other fans know.

But I’m not an extreme sports fan, you say. I don’t know who any of those big muscle-y guys are! That makes no difference to me. It’s simply a film. I can watch it without being troubled by outside issues. Koba/Angle doesn’t matter to me! Well, my dear friend, you may be right. Unfortunately, there is the distinct possibility that you are not. If you have borne witness to film and pop culture in the ’80’s, you (very likely) have access to Koba in a different manner. If you cannot engage in the fan’s position of Angle-intimacy, you can also access him through the cinematic analogy. Within the narrative he is being used as The Russian aka the Ultimate baddie, the “anti-American” antagonist. Hrmm. Sound familiar? Well, Rocky IV (Sylvester Stallone, 1985) fans, it really should. Kurt Angle had a predecessor: Dolph Lundgren, the most Soviet Swede (if ever there was one) played the incredibly intimidating Ivan Drago, threatening America and Rocky Balboa, should he not beat him in that boxing match!

Rocky (USA) vs. Drago (USSR)…politics, sports or hair?

So even if you are unaware of Koba from his reality as Kurt Angle, there is bound to be the analogy between fictions, causing a similar rift between sports types as that which came up within the Angle-intimate situation. Boxing, like wrestling, played its own part in the creation of the sport of MMA, thus helping to give it a certain groundwork. Here once again we are shown another example of the clash between that which came before (boxing/Rocky IV) and that which is here now (Mixed Martial Arts/Warrior), a battle between kinds of histories and physical techniques, or, one could almost say, technologies.

Mixed Martial Arts itself is a mash-up. As has been shown through the discussions of the influencing filmic and non-fiction works, it is not a pure discipline. The very name of it states that it is Mixed Martial Arts. Warrior uses this sport as its playground for precisely this reason. Instead of using a stripped down, unadulterated athletic field through which to conduct a narrative, as David O. Russell did with boxing in The Fighter (2010), Warrior is playing in an arena that is so jam-packed with elements that it’s ready to explode. The sport is a combination of various different combat sports, all of which are brutal in and of themselves. MMA takes boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, muay-thai, kickboxing, karate and other martial arts and lumps them all together into one vicious mass. That blend is indicative of the film itself, as it seeks to reflect its characters and their own issues with personal history, familial structuring and emotional maturity. The quickness and complexity of the various styles of martial arts play against the very basic nature of the more simple (but no less valid) boxing or wrestling. MMA as a battlefield for the inner fights of these men only underscore how much more complicated any singular fight can be, let alone the variety that are going on within the narrative of the actual film.

Instruments of Terror v. Instruments of Truth

Warrior confronts many different things, but none so interesting as the idea of technology. History is a major theme within the film and technology helps to highlight that in a variety of different ways.

One of the first technological introductions comes in the form of Paddy Conlon, the father character, played by Nick Nolte. When we first meet him, he is leaving a church and upon getting into his old, out-of-date car, he flips on a cassette tape recording of Moby Dick being read aloud. The idea that this man is still attached to various old kinds of machinery is a clear cut sign that he has been stunted on his path somehow. Throughout the film we find this to be the case. His relationship to his tape player (which includes a walkman) and book-on-tape signify his character more succinctly than almost anyone else in the film.

Paddy Conlon meets up with his past in its current state: his youngest son, Tommy Riordan (Tom Hardy)

Paddy is an alcoholic, and he spent the majority of his life letting down his family. His wife and children left him due to his patterns of drinking and violence but that didn’t stop him from repeating them. His behavior in respect to technological instruments in the film reflect his personal history which means he will continue to do the same things over and over again. He broke himself of his pattern of drinking through AA, but he is so stuck on the great machinations of the past that he continues to use out-of-date technology to tell him the same fictional story over and over again about a man whose pride was too great and the endless pursuit of what he believed was right cost him everything he had. In a sense, Paddy is punishing himself daily for the loss of his family by showering himself in ancient history. While there are flickers of change that we see occur due to other characters appearances and catalyzing factors, they do not last for very long, and when they are there, they cause such pain and conflict that Paddy is forced out of the present-day-era. In Paddy Conlon, what we see is a broken ghost of a man who lives in the past; the ever-present cassette-player, the semi-old-fashioned clothing and the tired and resigned countenance all part and parcel of his daily equipment.

Sometimes the pain of the clash of then and now coming together can be too much, as Paddy finds out when he attempts to update himself to the “now”

Digital technology plays a large part in this film as well. If it wasn’t for the digital technologies that are shown within the narrative of Warrior, Tommy wouldn’t have much of a story, which says quite a bit about Tommy. When we first see Tommy, he has come to meet up with Paddy, his dad, and he confronts him about a variety of issues and tries to get him to drink with him. Paddy declines, but Tommy continues to drink. As the film moves forward, it turns out that Tommy wants to be back in touch with his dad, but only to get Paddy to help him train for a big MMA match, to which the elder man happily agrees, thinking that it will be a way to “update” his history; move him out of his “dark ages” and help him bond with his son. But Tommy will have none of that. He is as cold as steel and as non-emotive as a piece of computer equipment. Even when his father reaches out to him with old “training items,” Tommy shuts him down quickly.

While at the gym one day, Tommy volunteers himself to fight one of the main fighters.

What he doesn’t know is that it’s being recorded on a cellphone. Shortly after the match, it makes its way from cellphone to YouTube, and goes viral. Due to this, Tommy gets recognized from another incredibly significant chapter in his life. The audience watches the lightning-fast progression as yet more digital machinery is utilized (a handheld HDcam) to show footage of Tommy from somewhere deep in his past. The face from the HDcam tape is compared to the one on the YouTube clip. Clearly, it’s the same guy. Tommy’s relationship to the digital world is a fascinating one. While his entire personal story within the film would have been skeletal without the meat put on it by the above incidents, technology is where he maintains a certain level of similarity with his father. Tommy would rather reject modern media than revel in it. While his reasoning is different from his father’s, it is still a maintained relationship with technology that is strongly significant within the view of being a major participant in a large sporting event. To not only decline but rebuff media and the technological bathing that comes with huge sporting events could be likened to listening to a cassette-player in the age of the iPod. It just doesn’t make sense to the majority of the world- why on earth would you want to do such a thing?

When Tommy gets accepted and goes to Sparta (the huge MMA event he has been training for) he refuses all the standard “bells and whistles” that come with being a main competitor. When all the rest of the MMA fighters have theme songs, Tommy had nothing. Where all the rest of the MMA fighters had outfits shellacked with sponsorships and loud colors, Tommy walked out onto the floor in a simple hooded sweatshirt. Even his style was “unsexy”- one hit, and the competition was out like a light. Was Tommy doing this in order to try to garner less attention (in which case he failed, as the choices he made only made the spotlight on him grow) or did he do this as part of a self-destructive plan, meaning he had more in common with his father than he thought? By negating his history, stubbornly denying the past and not participating in standard athlete’s ritual and behavior, his past caught up with his present much in the same way that Paddy’s did, and the conflict became unbearable.

Technology was the catalyst of Tommy’s evolution in the film and, more importantly, the technology associated with his character’s storyline was totally out of his hands. As a young man who had always felt like his life was beyond his control, it seems only fitting that we watch as he works out his raging pain and anguish against the technological forces and historical situations that ripped apart his plans and ruined his life in a physical manner. In a sense, the grande finale of the film has echoes of Ahab/Tommy battling the white whale/his past, only this time, he finds a way to achieve success without ultimate destruction.

A variety of other technologies are littered throughout the film, adding strength to ideas of history and the connective presence that machinations have between our past and our future. The high school kids that Paddy’s other son Brendan teaches organize a Pay-Per-View event at the local drive-in so they could watch their teacher “large and in-charge” at Sparta, Brendan’s wife refuses to turn the television on or deal with her cellphone until she finds out he’s succeeded in his first match and then she’s “in.”  In a picture that is highly corporeally-bound, there sure is a lot of reference matter to old and new machinery. Perhaps what Warrior tells us then, finally, is that by shutting away our histories, our emotional responses, our familial ties, we become fragmented. We may, like the poster, look whole from far away, but we are not. We are divided and will remain so until we can physically beat ourselves into some kind of submission and finally connect to what is really good for us.

I Miss Talking in the Dark: Cinema, Technological Change and the Personal

Last week I read an article that was being shuffled around my social media circles about the “death of the film camera.”

While I’ll admit I was saddened, I can’t say that I was shocked. I watched as the article made its way, slowly but surely, through all of my friends’ Twitterfeeds and Facebook pages. I considered the fact that a year ago I would have been devastated and that this year I don’t think that this article is the sign of the apocalypse, even if I do prefer cinema that is shot on film.

Today, on Panavision’s Facebook page, they announced that

   As a rental company, Panavision is committed to supporting our customers worldwide by providing them a wide range of camera equipment which includes film cameras. We continue to support our fleet of film cameras, and that includes ongoing major refurbishment, which in many cases means almost a complete rebuild of existing product. There is still significant demand for film equipment in many of our key markets, including studio feature film productions. So, while our ongoing focus is the transition to future products in the digital world, the implication that we’ve quit the film business isn’t accurate.

I guess the idea is to learn and to think critically. It is also to understand that film is changing, even if it not always for (perhaps) the best.

The responses to Panavision’s statement are somewhat more fascinating than the concept that there will never be another brand-new film camera made. Clearly the lack of new cameras will not be problematic. The world is chock-full of them for rent, and, as Panavision stated, they are more than willing to make sure that said-items continue to function at top capacity. So then my question is this- what does the film camera “death” really mean to people? What does it mean to me?

There are no rules in underground cinema, only edges.--Cecil B. Demented (John Waters, 2000)

The people who reacted to Panavision’s facebook “status” were of a few types: the vultures (are you selling any cameras? I’ll buy ’em if you are!), the denial-ists (of course you’ll still support REAL film!) and the realists (this is great news for all sides). My reaction? More on the real. The digital is here and getting bigger but there is no reason to reject our foreparents. In my mind, there is no reason why it cannot all coexist. But that’s another entry.

What this is really about is a kind of nostalgia and fear that most of us cinephiles have. We react to change about as well as a Mogwai does to a midnight snack, which is to say…not very well. We hear the word “digital” associated with the cinema and, many times, it sets off a horrific panic in our system.

Let’s be honest here. How many people do you know who view modern changes to projection, prints, restoration, or filmmaking as somehow a personal attack? Realistically, this is not always the most mature or thoughtful (let alone intelligent) critical approach to a medium that you love above all things. I AM GUILTY OF THIS. But I have started to reconsider my fan-girl-esque issues as they may not come from a place of knowledge, only a place of viscera. I believe that it is when we can connect the knowledge and visceral centers that we can have well-constructed analyses.

While it may seem that I have “sold out” and the The Man “got me” that is wholly untrue. I am just as much of a True Believer as ever, only in a different, more centered way. I cannot let nostalgia and personal engagement take precedence over certain elements of the filmic world due to the fact that I do love it so very much. I am in training to become an archivist, and while I completely disagree with one of my professors that Carolee Schneemann‘s work could be digitized and maintain its integrity and meaning, I have come to understand that the digital does have its place and space.

Do I understand the issues involved with why all the theaters have gone digital with the exception of the wonderful New Beverly Cinema, and 2 or 3 others? Yep. I do. Do I like it? No, I don’t. This is one of the areas that I know has nothing to do with nostalgia: I just like sitting in the dark with other people and watching movies on real film. And I do wish that more studios would be sympathetic to the few theaters that still participate in this semi-arcane practice, at this point. Don’t just suggest that we play a Blu-Ray. I know Blu-Rays look REALLY nice, but…they don’t have the visual warmth. Especially with an audience. Realistically, I am totally willing to take base scratches on a print over the pristine cold of a Blu-Ray if I’ve got film fans around me. Movies are always 50% about what’s on the screen and 50% about who’s looking at the screen for me.

But the film world is this marvelously organic breathing changing thing. It always has been. I expect it always will be. To expect it to stay the same is to desire stagnation. The methods we use to tell our stories change. The ways we communicate our film discussions change. We change. I suppose we cannot realistically get any angrier at the technologies now than when sound came in. It was a rocky beginning, but who knows? Maybe in a few years?

That said, my patience only goes so far. This would have to be where I draw the line: I am exceedingly impatient at anyone in the younger generation (or current generation, for that matter) that uses their phone in a movie theater. To text, to call, to take a picture/screen cap of the screen, any of that. That is the one thing that drives me completely up the wall, and I will NEVER be able to tolerate that change in our world and I find that aspect of technology exceedingly tiresome. I do not have the ability to cope with that and I’m ok with that Area of Crankiness.

I do not believe that the death of the film camera means the death of film itself. I have also started to come to terms with the fact that film is heading in a very different direction than it ever has before and I am looking forward to becoming part of that world and making sure that a strong bridge between the old and the new is maintained. I think what will be key to this maintenance will be the formulation of a mutually beneficial structure amongst all the cinefiles. I’m not entirely sure that is possible, as cinefiles are amongst the most opinionated, obsessive and fan-culture-iffic folks I’ve ever met, but I believe it is worth a try and I certainly plan on doing my part.

 

When I Think Back On All The Crap I Learned in High School: Ode To Kodachrome, 1935-2010

I started having pictures taken of me as soon as I was born. My godmother was a photographer/art teacher at UCLA, and I spent the very early bits of my life in weird artsy places and dark rooms at UCLA smelling chemicals, as well as her incense and (very likely) pot-smelling apartment in Santa Monica.

She had crazy amounts of cameras. Underwater cameras. Regular cameras. By the time I was 6, going to Samy’s was like going to the park or the grocery store or something. I dunno. It was just something we did. I knew names of film (Fuji, Kodak) and I kept hearing about this strange thing called an ISO…?

She took pictures. And my mother took pictures. There was a shutter flashing every two seconds. *click*  **zzzz** I still happen to think that the sound of a manual camera is one of the sexiest sounds on the planet. Put that and perhaps an Irish or Scottish accent next to my ear, and I might just automatically have no bones in my body and a huge shit-eating grin on my face.

We have fairly decent collections of family albums due to the fact that before digital cameras came in and caused us to simply look at something and delete its existence forever due to someone closing their eyes or a misjudged hand in the “incorrect place” we got them developed. And not only did we get them developed, but we had this strange exhibit called a “slide show.”

I know, I know, some of you may not remember this or know what this is. For those of you who do not know what a slide is, I will give you a picture:

All kidding put aside, these were very important and essential parts of my life. I doubt my parents (or my excruciatingly stoned godmother and her partner my sorta other godparent-ish guy) ever knew how much these little pieces of my very early childhood this meant to me, but all I can say is that I probably would not be a cinephile if I hadn’t had slide shows all the time as a kid. I remember laughter, my mom having a drink and the ice clinking, and the crack in the wall (our house was built in 1919, or something ridiculous like that), and great photos. Whether they were artsy photos, family shots, or a mix of the two, we had a good time.

The main thing was that it was not unlike 16mm film. The 16mm format, introduced in 1923, was utilized as a way to create “real” movies but at home. It may not have been 35mm, but hey- it was still film, right? And you could project ’em yourself, too? Not only that, it created a sense of community and brought the family together in a way that other things could not. It was one way that, historically, media absolutely built bridges instead of tearing them down. The process of creating a film together, and then watching it together was a bonding experience. Look at the opening of the TV show, The Wonder Years.

Within this clip, you see a family that is very clearly having Family Fun Times. Ok, yeah. It’s a television show. But it’s a television show that I grew up with. I also watched this show explore some pretty harsh issues of the time in a fairly sensitive and smart manner, so I would have to say that opening the show with a 16mm family film was a good call. It showed the historical reality that was going to be presented withing the fiction. Not bad for an 8:00pm ABC show, essentially aimed at a mid-range adolescent audience.

So back to slide shows. My slide shows in the ’80’s served a similar purpose to the 16mm home movies. They really brought us together. Seeing as my family had quite a bit of tragedy happen before I was even in Kindergarten, we needed some o’ that. Plus they were all hippies anyway. It was their thing, man. At any rate, I enjoyed the pretty pictures. And now, with the death of Kodachrome, I am starting to realize (perhaps) where the birth of my love for cinema came from.

When I went to summer camp, I took a photography class. It just made sense. I liked the visual image. I like the pictures. I like making pictures with my eyes. I like certain photographers as artists much better than most painters, sculpters, etc. The first camera I ever used was a Pentax K-1000 up at Camp Swig, in Saratoga, CA. It was awesome. If I remember correctly (and I believe pretty heavily in the Dorothy Parker quote “Women and elephants never forget”) I believe I ended up being the assistant to the camera teacher. Her name was Emily, she had dyed black hair, and she really liked this band I’d never heard of called Pavement and wore khakis. She was really really really cool. I think about her sometimes and wonder whatever happened to her. I have a feeling we’d be friends now. not just because I have a very good sense of who the hell Pavement is, but just because I think we would. I liked her a lot. She was my entrance into The Camera.

Then came High School…and thus the title for this piece. The darkroom at Fairfax High School in 1995 was no joke…to me, anyways. I learned stuff and had a great teacher. And I met one of my better high school friends who I am still in and out of touch with. My first Punk Rawk Pal that was my own age! Imagine THAT!  Yeah, so upon entering that scarlet chamber, I was given several options: engage in a drug deal (generally pot, but I might’ve been able to go harder. Never asked. Wasn’t interested), lounge around and talk about the exciting and engaging world of high school sexuality and politics (Oooo! Sounds thrilling when I have a chance to have 2-3 hours of darkroom time) or use some decent equipment to print pictures with. I chose the latter of the three. Every time. My only issue was negotiating the other idiots who were inside that space with me and the people who actually wanted to work. Regardless, it got done. And I got lovely work out of it.

My next darkroom, at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts? So. Much. Better. I had my work in our shows, it inspired me to go to Venice Beach on busses and get into photography as a True Love For Life. I think at Fairfax it might have been just a crush that I was considering moving in with. But I committed, hook, line and sinker at LACHSA. My only regret? I missed the day that we did pinhole cameras. I think I might’ve been getting my braces off or it was the dentist or something stupid like that. Someday…I want to do a pinhole camera.

The question now, however, is…will I get to? Perhaps some of you have seen the articles floating around people’s Facebook pages about the Death of Kodachrome. And almost all of you have heard the Paul Simon song “Kodachrome.”

Yesterday, after 75 years of glorious color, Kodachrome came to a screeching halt. Dwayne’s Photo, the building in Parsons, Kansas, and the last Kodachrome developing processor in the world, is being sold for scrap. People sent their rolls and reels in from all over the world to get them in by the deadline, spent retirement funds, traveled internationally, just so they could get those “greens of summer.”

I know what you must be thinking. Is it really that good? Can’t they get those colors digitally at this point? They can do anything with computers now! Can’t they reproduce Kodachrome? The easy answer is yes. You can get that color. The problem is you will never get the tone or, more importantly, the feel. Because I have had close relationships with Real Live Film Projectionists for years, I have been lucky enough to experience the warmth of Kodachrome, and it is simply a film look that is like no other (save perhaps Fuji, but that *still* doesn’t have the same thing that Paul Simon sang of- the dude wasn’t stupid!!).

The thing about Kodachrome is that it keeps its color. It was highly regarded for that reason. It started getting beat out by cheaper processes, but there were studies done and according to professionals, archivists, and the scientists-in-between like Wilhelm Imaging Research, Kodachrome “clearly is the most stable transparency film in dark storage; the film is especially outstanding in terms of its total freedom from yellow stain, even after extended aging.”  Unlike other films, even a roll that is undeveloped can keep its color. Look at these two photographs after 20 years lying in the Canadian rainforest, partially buried:

Picture of the best film roll, no white balance

Picture of the best film roll, white balance applied

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So if that didn’t hit you, why don’t we try something a little harder. Here is a piece of film work where they seem to be testing out early incarnations of Kodachrome. No, this is not made today. This is actual honest-to-goodness, back-in-the-day, 1922 footage. I swear. If this doesn’t hit you on the glory of Kodachrome, I’m not sure what (if anything) will.

So, when I heard about Dwayne’s closing, and Kodachrome leaving us for good…my heart was broken. The amount of home movies and relationships that were created upon a format whose very emulsion had properties that outlasted the ones of other color film elements? Countless. The history that was made on Kodachrome photography? Beyond measure. National Geographic, for just one example. Familiar with this?

That’s Kodachrome. An iconic image. Documentaries were done about this photograph and the girl in it. Hey, Kodachrome, how ya doing? Naw, you’re not essential to American media culture. Not at all. We’ll just use the quicker, cheaper, ways. ‘S ok. We can fix all that with computers anyway. Digital! It’s the future!

What you can’t fix with computers is the warmth from the screen, the pure vibrancy of the colors of a printed photograph, the laughter amongst an audience, the bond between families making a home movie. These things take on lives of their own. It is no mistake that most artists consider their works to be “parts of themselves’ or their “children.”  In either situation, they are sentient beings or at least possessing blood, musculature and some possibility of animation.

The big joke was that Kodachrome was made by God and Man, as it was created by two musicians named Leopold Godowsky, Jr. and Leopold Mannes. Kodachrome was almost like a combination of the human and the divine. It could do what other color films could not do and for longer, and conduct great miracles (of the Canadian forest variety!). But it also shared a magic on-screen/paper/slide that others have not been able to match. It has touched people in a way that no other film has. Whether it was through a movie camera or the eye of a photojournalist, Kodachrome made an impact on American culture that was clearly almost religious. We have Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah named after it! Last time I checked, I wasn’t going and picnicking at Ilford or Agfa State Park!

And then there’s Paul. Oh, Paul.

So yes. This is a eulogy. But perhaps it is only a temporary one.  I feel that with the onset of the technological age, unless something changes fast, it will be permanent. The funny thing is that in Paul’s song he says “everything looks worse in black and white” and now that is the only way that Kodachrome can be processed, by a company called Film Rescue International. Oh, irony. According to the New York Times, some folks’re still holding on to their rolls of film because they are hoping that Kodak might “see their lack of wisdom” in killing Kodachrome. And to me that is how it should be. We should always hold out a little hope for the future. After all, it is Kodachrome. It is, has been, and always will be, as Todd Gustavson of the Eastman House says, “more than a film, it’s a pop culture icon.”

I Must Make My Witness: Technojunkie-ism, Unemployment and the Loss of Anger

I’m sitting in a coffee shop. Surrounded by techno-junkies…and I…well, I might as well be one of them.
My “smart” phone is on the left of me, charging through my computer. I have my headphones on, listening to the clips that I’m playing and readying for this piece and my iPod is on the right of me, charger underneath, just in case the battery runs low.  It is truly amazing, this. What the hell am I doing? This isn’t me.

I look, for all intents and purposes, either like some weird Star Trek creature, with wires and mechanical technology hanging out all over the place (that is, if you include my tattoos & piercings), or some mad automaton you would call for assistance with your cellphone perhaps. “Hello, this is Verizon, how can I help you?”

The rest of the coffee shop? Not so much. They look happy. Dependent. Smiling. Ready to send off that next resume before hitting that next audition. But first, they’ll hit up Facebook to see what’s up, ya know? And that’s the hilarity. I come to this place with some regularity. It’s near where I live. I can take a pretty good gamble and say that amongst the very filled up shop (yesterday it was almost difficult to find a place to “plug-in”) most of ’em, myself included, are unemployed.

But this is Los Angeles. The LAND of the unemployed. After all, isn’t it still possible to get discovered? No, boys and girls, it’s not. Oh, and just to shatter your dreams even more, That Schwab’s story is an urban myth as well. Lana Turner, if she was discovered *anywhere* was most like discovered somewhere down the street. Schwab’s, on the other hand, much like the place I current am inhabiting, was also a  locale for the unemployed to “check in” and “catch up” and perhaps get a break from someone else who may have a lead.

When I lost my job, everyone smiled and laughed and said, “Hey!! Now you’re on FUN-employment!” and I looked at them like they were crazy because, really, it’s an insane way to look at the world. Insane, in every sense of the word. See, you take away someone’s work/worklife/space, and you take away their reason to get up in the morning or their reason to leave the house. Quite literally. Say what you will, but it is true. And I always knew this, which is why I never took my job for granted when I had it. I liked my job. I loved my job. I did anachronistic activities sometimes with anachronistic materials but that made me feel like a million bucks. Now? Well, I’ve totally read a mass of books. I’ve watched a bunch of movies. But I’ve gotten to the point where Law & Order episodes are repeating themselves and that. Is. Not. Good. I miss having a job.

Here is the basic problem: Working give us parameters and schedules and rituals and routines. Human beings need these things. We always have and we always will. Most importantly, work gives us purpose. Just like relationships with other people give us purpose. What happens when we lose one? What happens if we lose both?

See, we have social worlds that are significantly interwoven and related to our working lives. Take away one…well, I don’t think I have to explain what happens to the other. You would be surprised at how much you actually depend on your co-workers. Those people may not be your best friends; in fact, you may not even like them, but you need them. The nauseatingly interesting thing is this: we are learning to supplant all of our social interactions- even those with the most disliked of office co-workers- with those of technology.

So perhaps, then, due to your Iphone 8.5,000 and your awesome new Ipad and whatever the latest and greatest techno-toy is, when you get laid off you won’t be so lonely?

See, I’m not actually sure that this will be the case. Argue what you like, but I have historical back up. When I was in elementary school, I became madly obsessed with the transcendentalists. I thought they were incredible. I should not have been surprised, therefore, when I went straight into an obsession with the Beats. Just made sense. What didn’t was the fact that I was also reading Stephen King and ridiculously thick, poorly written gothic romance novels, searching incessantly for another Jane Eyreor “Rebecca”, but hey…who’s counting?

At any rate, there was this guy. Henry David Thoreau. I thought he was a rock star; his ideologies and his whole conception of the world were beyond anything I had ever heard before and it blew my mind. At one point in his career he decided to go and take a cabin in Massachusetts, alone.

By spending  a good long time there, he realized he had to leave. But not before having learned something extremely important. In his words, he left the woods:

…for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now. (Thoreau, Walden)

His desire not to “go below” speaks of something a bit more than simply non-conformity. Walden is, by no means a simple piece of literature. It is a gorgeous piece that discusses a litany of topics that, while having some sway on this discussion, would, literally, SWAY us off-course. Thoreau did not wish to “go below” because he recognized that his place was with other human beings, not in seclusion. To paraphrase and oversimplify, people need people in order to move forward through the world in a productive manner. He left for as good a reason as he came: solitude. The recognition that he had lived the “solitary life” and found it to be not as satisfying for the long-haul was a big step for a man as independent as Thoreau. So he left the woods.

The human connection is actually quite strong. Strong enough to leave the woods for, strong enough for people to give up organs for, strong enough for people to do lots of incredible things that make all the people on Oprah cry and go “Aw…” and “Wow!”  And that’s great. It’s the wonderful part of the Opposable World. But it seems to be changing a lot as we attempt to turn flesh and muscle into metal and wire, like in the latest Droid commercial…

So here is the problem: we are working very very hard at making very very sure that we do not need people at all. The more we do that, the more jobs are lost and the more unemployment we have. The more unemployment we have,  the more relationships and social worlds are lost and broken. See a pattern here? So, with all of this, and especially with the substantive rise of unemployment, don’t you think we should be more ANGRY?

You would, wouldn’t you? Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet certainly did, back in 1976. But back then, their major technological contender was the luminescent screen of the television, with some politicians and advertising schlumps vying to control people’s minds! What a thing to say…Oh Network, life was so much simpler then…*cue old-timey music and the squeak of a rocking chair*

I am not trying to downplay Network‘s content or the film itself by any stretch of the imagination. Every word, every bit of that narrative, every slice of that piece of cinema remains as true today as it was in 1976. What terrifies me is that in 1976, Paddy Chayefsky was discussing anger, and in 2010, due to a malaise come upon by what I call technojunkie-ism, no one gets angry anymore. Or heartbroken. Or even, dare I say it, really excited or happy. Being attached to these techno-toys, as shown in the Droid commercial, is turning us into robots, really sick robots, dangerously fast. There is even a new anxiety that is being written about called “disconnectivity anxiety” and it is EXACTLY what the words mean. It’s damn scary.

As you saw in the above clip, Peter Finch’s character, Howard Beale, walks into the studio to “make his witness.” What isn’t shown is that he has recently been fired and this is his last appearance on the show. He is, for all intents and purposes, unemployed. And he isn’t just unemployed, he has threatened suicide as a result…while he was on live television. The “last broadcast” in the above clip is supposed to make up for this “poor reaction” to being told he was, as the British say, being made redundant.

What we are shown here is his rage, pure and primal, beautiful and real in all of its intensity. As he asks the audience everywhere to join with him, we watch as he is being co-opted by Faye Dunaway’s character, and the remainder of the film just spirals gloriously from there. However, what is essential to this discussion is the way that Howard Beale expresses himself at this moment in time. He is being removed from and losing everything. He has spent his life working towards his goals, he has the aforementioned social connections (in fact, his best friend/co-worker was the one who had to give Beale the news) and now he has…nothing.

What Beale does, at this juncture, is appeal to the one community that he still has: his audience. He is no longer their television anchor; he is one of them. At the beginning, it seems that every time he says “we”, Beale might as well be saying “I.” However, his only somewhat-subtly disguised subjectivity does not take away from the effect his speech has on his “new peer group” due to the fact that he has now joined their ranks. In fact, if his rawness does anything, it only draws them in closer (thus making it easier for Faye Dunaway to continue to exploit him, and the television audiences, throughout the film).

His next dialogic switch from accusatory direct address to strong demand for everyone to stand up and assert themselves is key. Due to his recent termination, Beale has been left feeling invalid, not even human. He was going to take his own life on broadcast television due to the fact that the station had already done so. Beale gives adamant instructions. He states,  “All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a human being, goddamnit, my life has value!'” Beale, through his anger, has connected with another community (his audience) and gotten back some sort of personal value for himself.

Tragically, that same personal value that Beale regained doesn’t seem to come into play when it has to do with techno-toys. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be anything much “personal” about them, save, perhaps, the painfully bedazzled cell-phone case or an iPod with your name inscribed on the back. Even those aspects seem to speak more about the “value” than the “personal.” Due to our heightened dependence on the largess of the technological empire, whether it be within Network (1976) or reality, our connections to each other are failing deeply. Howard Beale says it perfectly at a different juncture in the film.

Yep, Howard Beale, I couldn’t agree with you more. We ARE in a lot of trouble. These days, it’s not just that one tube we have to contend with. There are chips and boards, and all sorts of wonderful items that create trouble. Oh, Howard, we’ve let you down. 30 years later, have we learned nothing? When you pleaded for us to turn off that set, who actually did? More importantly, was there anyone at that juncture who actually would have? Who didn’t want to see what “happened next”? And ah…therein lies the rub.

We are now a generation of people in need. We need to know, need to have, need to be updated, needneedneed. It is as though we went through two World Wars, Vietnam, Korea and other assorted conflicts, and then, upon getting new technology, decided it was high time to regress to child-like mentality again for everyone so that we can play. The most problematic feature of this (ok, so it’s all problematic, but the very worst one) is that we have no one to parent us or tell us no. Thus, we are losing our way (and each other) as fast as we can develop new toys to play with.

David Wong wrote a brilliant article entitled, “7 Reasons Why The 21st Century Is Making You Miserable” and he hits the nail on the head every single time. He mentions that our social interactions have degenerated to basically less than nothing, making it so that we rarely interact with strangers and we very (if ever) open our friend groups. This alone is heartbreaking. OK, so beyond our retracting our social claws, we also communicate increasingly poorly (almost exclusive through text and online), are almost never criticized (there is a difference between a criticism and an insult…he explains it quite well!), and because most of our friends are online or “virtual,” they are actually a great deal less demanding and therefore the friendship is much less fulfilling and deep. Those are a few of the reasons. I would love you to read the article. It is fantastic and alarmingly accurate.

What Wong hits on is something that I find scariest of all: it is all being taken in stride. Our separation from ourselves and our friends is being shrugged off like a drug charge on Paris Hilton. There is no Howard Beale out there, and if there was, who would listen? These instruments are too much part of our culture now, too convenient…If anyone got upset, all someone would have to do is offer them a free upgrade or a new model and *whoosh*…gone…They would be happy as hell, and gonna find a new app!

As we slip further and further into the abyss of some Cronenberg-ian nightmare, where our Smartphones become part of our hands and our iPods and their holders become permanent bicep attachments from jogging at the gym, it would be nice to think of Howard Beale every so often, and hope that maybe we can figure out a way to put down the techno-toys for a bit before it becomes too late. Unless it is too late. But I would like to think that it isn’t. We need to be responsible about our technologies and each other.

Realistically, I’m not sure I want to know everyone sitting at my coffee shop. But I’m unemployed, I’m lonely, and frankly…I’m game. If we don’t get along, fair enough. But to be perfectly honest, I would rather be out in the world right now trying to have conversations with sentient beings than cooped up in my room continuing a road to ruin and devastation along the lines of what David Wong discusses.

Dear Howard Beale,

Thank you for inspiring the anger in me, and reminding me that I, too, am a human being, goddamnit, and I have value.

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!

Love,

Ariel

Every time he says “we”, Beale might as well be saying “I”